- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A Minnesota man pleaded guilty Thursday to charges stemming from last month’s failed attempt to overthrow the government in the West African nation of Gambia.

Papa Faal, 46, admitted in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis that he participated in the Dec. 30 attack on Gambia’s State House, where he said he believes most of his co-conspirators died.

“The intent was not to kill anybody” unless fired upon, Faal said in court. “It turned really violent. … We were surprised by the fact that we had more resistance than anticipated.”

Prosecutors say Faal, of Brooklyn Park, and another man, Cherno Njie, traveled separately from the United States to Gambia to participate in the unrest. They were charged upon their return to the U.S.

Faal pleaded guilty Thursday to one count of conspiracy to export firearms to Gambia without a license and one count of conspiracy to participate in an attempted overthrow of a country with whom the U.S. is “at peace.” Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

Faal told the court that in August he joined a group of men who wanted to change the regime in Gambia. Court papers indicated he was motivated out of concern that elections were being rigged and for the “plight of the Gambian people.”

Faal, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Gambia and former member of the U.S. military, said he participated in calls with others who were trying to overthrow Gambian President Yahya Jammeh and he received emails that contained links to operational plans for the ambush.

Faal said one person gave him money to buy weapons, and Faal bought eight semiautomatic rifles in Minnesota and hid them in barrels that were shipped to Gambia.

Faal said he met up with other members of the group in Gambia. They initially planned to ambush the president, but changed plans once they learned he was out of town, he said.

A sentencing hearing will be set at a later date.

Njie, 57, of Austin, Texas, made his initial court appearance in Baltimore earlier this month and is being transported to Minnesota to face charges. Faal identified Njie as a financier of the group.

Human rights activists have long criticized the government in Gambia for targeting political opponents, journalists, and gays and lesbians. The U.S. government recently removed Gambia from a trade agreement in response to human rights abuses.

The U.S. denounced the coup attempt.

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